by Vince Rinehart
In case you haven’t heard, a social movement among Native people has begun in Canada, protesting against the Conservative Government’s budget bill which would cut funding for Native organizations in addition to lifting environmental protections across Canada. The movement, dubbed Idle No More, has included an attempted “forced” entry into Parliament by Indian Chiefs as well as flash mobs and rallies across Canada and one hunger strike that is entering it’s second week. The movement has even spread across the border as Natives in the US recognize the important social, cultural and political ties that we have with one another. As a Native, I applaud this awakening of political consciousness. However, much like the Tea Party and Occupy movements in the US, I am skeptical of the movement’s ability to institute lasting change in our relationship with what are essentially colonial powers. Of course, radical change may not even be the point of this movement in the first place, and this sort of restlessness among Native people may just be a precursor of a wider awakening across the continent. Hopefully this is just the beginning.
Here are some perspectives from long time radical Native activists in Canada who have analyzed the movement.
Zig Zag at Warrior Publications offers some of the most thorough analysis from Coastal Native territory. I have long followed Zig Zag’s writing. Natives in Oregon, Washington and Southeast Alaska (where my own tribe hails from) have strong cultural ties to British Columbia and Yukon First Nations tribes on the Canadian side of the border. He offers up this opinion in his piece Idle No More? Speak for yourself….
“The movement, under the banner “Idle No More” (#IdleNoMore) emerged within the grassroots less than four weeks ago in Saskatchewan. It began as an effort to educate First Nations people on the multitude of legislation being put forward by the Harper government that they feel is a direct attack on the rights of First Nations. The organizers Sylvia McAdam, Jess Gordon, Nina Wilson and Sheelah Mclean began by organizing “teach-ins” to inform people.”
(Idle No More Press Release, Dec. 10, 2012)
From these humble beginnings, #IdleNoMore proliferated through social media and in a short period of time helped mobilize several thousand Natives across the country.
But was it all grassroots? Indian Act chiefs and band councils, the Assembly of First Nations and its regional branches, Aboriginal service organizations, and organizations such as the Confederacy of Treaty 6 Chiefs, all contributed to the mobilization of Dec. 10. None of these entities can be considered grassroots as they all receive funding and support from the colonial state.
In fact, along with their power struggle for political control over Native peoples, the Indian Act Indians are angry that their government funding was recently cut.
On Sept. 4, 2012, the federal government announced that core funding for Aboriginal political organizations and tribal councils would be cut by 10 percent or see a $500,000 limit on funding. The Manitoba AFN for example, a provincial organization, will see its funding cut from $2.6 million annually to $500,000.
In addition, Aboriginal service organizations were also hit with cuts:
“In September 2012, the federal government announced it was slashing the budgets of numerous aboriginal groups. For example, the Assembly of Manitoba’s funds were cut by 80%; the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations budget was reduced by 70%; and millions of dollars were additionally cut to regional tribal councils in aboriginal communities from coast to coast to coast.”
Perhaps the critique that hit closest to home for me was this piece from Kai Kai Kons in Anishinabek territory who says “I am not going to jail or willing to die to secure Chiefs salaries,” and further states:
It aint no Omnibus Bill thats going to extinguish our rights…We accept Land Claim $ettlements that Surrender our Title to our Lands, we continue to depend on a Capitalist Consumerist Lifestyle, We continue to use the Indian Act to protect us, use it to elect ourselves like a Mayor Municipality…Most of our people no longer see our lands, languages, ideaologies and way of life practical in this Jersey Shore Generation. Chiefs accepts economic development that destroys our future generations inheritance.
There are communities who are resisting Indian Act Elections reestablishing their Confederacy or Clan Systems as Governance Models. There are individuals and communities denying Selling our Lands and resisting policies such as Specific Claims Policy. There is a movement happening to reestablish our Nation to Nation Agreements, Intertribal Agreements and Alliances and reclaiming our Warrior Spirit and repossessing our lands.
What happens when the marches and protests are over? We want no Indian Act but when the Govenrment is ready to do away with it what are our own solutions? How far are people ready to go to not Surrender and Walk our Talk. I am not picking on any specific person or group but do not let the Revolution become a Facebook Fad or your own Photo-opt, lets reclaim marching is fine but lets walk our talk.
I am not as well versed with Canadian/Native relations, but on the US side of the border the federal government has been persistent about setting up colonial “self governance” entities that have taken the form of Tribal Governments and even Native Corporations with special rules and regulations. These are, of course, nothing like our traditional forms of self governance and are completely dependent on the US Government for their survival and legitimacy. Just like in Canada, when US Natives push for greater representation in their colonial government or seek protection for our tribal bureaucracies then they are really just pushing us further toward assimilation and giving greater power to our tribal governments, which are essentially psuedo-client states in the orbit of the US Empire and it’s accomplices in Canada.
Zig Zag goes on to say this about Idle No More’s comparison to the Arab Spring or Occupy Movement:
Comparisons of INM to the “Arab Spring” reminds me of its bastard child, the Occupy movement. Like Occupy, INM has mobilized a significant number of people who have little experience in social movements and resistance in general. Looking at the Facebook sites where much of the rallies were organized, it is evident that many participants thought that a few thousand Natives protesting would “make history.”
And here was the first reality check: peaceful parades do not in and of themselves have a significant impact. They are in fact routine and serve to reinforce the illusion of democratic rights. What does impact the state and corporations is economic disruption, actions that stop the flow of capital and industry. But it is highly unlikely the Indian Act Indians will promote such a strategy as it would be political suicide on their part (aside from a few public relations stunts).
Like Occupy, there is also a sprinkling of new activists who think pacifist methods are the only acceptable forms of protest, and that it is of paramount importance to get positive media coverage. One of the organizers for Winnipeg’s rally, Jerry Daniels, was quoted as saying “They are trying to make us look like radicals but that’s not what we stand for.” Really? You don’t want to see radical change to an oppressive and genocidal system?
Most radical activists, including we here at Attack the System, recognize that the path to actual, substantial, long lasting change is through elimination of the ruling class and the institutions that they use at the local level to control territories and people. In Indian Country those institutions include tribal governments that behave more like municipalities and conduits through which wealth and resources are funneled out of traditional tribal territories, usually by multi-national corporations. In return, federal governments provide these institutions with legitimacy and funding to keep their people in line. The mobilization of Idle No More, heartening as it is, may just be those institutions flexing their muscle for greater representation and more influence at the table where special interests vie for the attention of their overlords: the state and colonial powers of the United States and their allies in Canada. These colonial powers can tolerate such shake ups, so long as they remain peaceful and ultimately do not interfere with the flow of wealth and power to the top. This is why you can expect the country’s left of center political power to benefit from movements such as this, cherry-picking it’s less radical elements and buying them off in return for greater support. Sound familiar? In the US, we called this little maneuver the Civil Rights Movement.
One interesting thing about these sort of movements is that as they spread they have the capacity to take on a life of their own. I know of rallies taking place in my own tribal territories, and solidarity rallies are taking place around the world. They are taking on their own local flavors, and I know sovereignty is on the minds of most participants. Now if these folks realize that our traditional method of political organization is still viable then we’ll be getting somewhere. What of our independent, networked and autonomous clans, bands, villages and kinship groups? Furthermore, what of the American Indian Movement’s (AIM) tactics from the sixties and seventies? Nothing is a threat to the ruling elite like armed Indians seizing federal property and reclaiming native lands. Nothing says “independence” and “sovereignty” like setting up grassroots, decentralized social services in Indian Country to replace the state as AIM did in it’s early days. Are we seeking independence, or more dependence? Either way, I wish my fellow Natives well in our mutual struggle; and will join when and where I can. I agree that we need to oppose specific legislation strategically. I also believe that our tribes need a long view. I know most tribes plan to outlive the US and Canadian states. Let’s make sure to give them a helpful shove when they are on their way down.